Fast-Moving Ebola Slows Down Liberia's Economy : Goats and Soda Farmers are too frightened to tend their fields. Customers have stopped going to restaurants, bars and other shops. So now people in Liberia's "breadbasket" region are depending on food donations.
NPR logo

Fast-Moving Ebola Slows Down Liberia's Economy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/347396996/347595032" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Fast-Moving Ebola Slows Down Liberia's Economy

Fast-Moving Ebola Slows Down Liberia's Economy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/347396996/347595032" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're tracking several major stories this morning. President Obama laid out a strategy for battling the Islamic State, and we're hearing his plans elsewhere in the program. We're also tracking West Africa's fight against Ebola, and we'll visit a place in such bad shape that Ebola is an opportunity for some. The virus hit Liberia as it was struggling to recover after two civil wars. The economy is a wreck, and in Liberia's Lofa County, some people hope Ebola gives them work. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Dozens of Liberians hover outside the Doctors Without Borders Ebola clinic in Foya in Lofa County. They're all looking for temp work. Young, unemployed women and men are waiting and hoping their names will be called out for jobs such as hygienist or carpenter. Alfred Pongay is a 24-year-old student.

ALFRED PONGAY: I came in the morning - 8 o'clock.

QUIST-ARCTON: And how many mornings have you been coming?

PONGAY: About two weeks now.

QUIST-ARCTON: You come at 8 o'clock in the morning every day, and you've been coming for two weeks.

PONGAY: Yes.

QUIST-ARCTON: Pongay says he's ready to do whatever work is offered - dig holes, crush rocks, erect additional tents or carry plants. Another student, Mary Nyumah, who's 26, is also job hunting. She peels an orange and waits patiently telling NPR...

MARY NYUMAH: I want to be working with dressing staff area.

QUIST-ARCTON: And have you had any luck so far? Have you been able to find work here?

NYUMAH: Yes.

QUIST-ARCTON: Their need for work is apparently overriding their concern about being infected with Ebola. Nyumah says she's arrived for her first day of training in the zone where relief agency staff dress-up in protective clothing. But other than these few temporary jobs, Ebola is costing Liberia's postwar economy dearly. Stephen Zargo - an aspiring candidate for the National Senate is also a businessman in Voinjama - the Lofa County capital. He runs a security company, a gas station franchise and owns a hotel.

STEPHEN ZARGO: Ebola has affected business immensely because a lot of our customers that used to support out business, that come to our guest house, are no more around. They've all left.

QUIST-ARCTON: Zargo says agriculture, once the backbone of Lofa's economy has been hard hit twice over - first the civil war and now Ebola.

ZARGO: Before the war, this part of Liberia was considered the bread basket. Most of the food you see in Monrovia came from Lofa, but now it's the other way around. Take, for example, recently the World Food Program sent to Lofa some 2,000 bags of rice for distribution among the people of Lofa. Normally people of Lofa don't live on handouts.

QUIST-ARCTON: But it's donations of Liberia's stable food, rice, that many people are desperately hoping for. Take the tiny village of Nyewolihun, an hour and a half's drive from Voinjama. That includes a bumpy, uphill motorbike taxi ride away from the nearest town. School principal-cum-farmer, Matthew Ndorleh, says they're hurting

MATTHEW NDORLEH: A lot of us are starving.

QUIST-ARCTON: Starving or hungry?

NDORLEH: Hungry. We have to go out and look for food. The little we had when we are getting the new harvest, we should store it and continue with the old rice. But the old rice is all gone. It's all - it's about finished - only the bush yam.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ndorleh says many farmers are just too frightened of Ebola to tend their farms.

NDORLEH: In fact most people are afraid to go into the bushes, thinking that if he or she goes they might encounter Ebola because they say the wild animals carry and we got a lot of monkeys around us here.

QUIST-ARCTON: The health authorities have warned people not to eat bushmeat because some animals such as bats are carriers of the Ebola virus. But beef or cow meat, as it's called here in Liberia, is still safe to eat. That's one of the dishes 39-year-old Mohammed Bah serves up on the menu at the quick service center in Voinjama. Which is close to the border with neighboring Guinea.

MOHAMMED BAH: Voinjama's depends on Guinea before - more than even Monrovia because even the cow meat as what we eat - the fresh meat we got from Guinea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Beef. The beef you get.

BAH: From Guinea but right now the border is closed, so we'll have serious problem. Yeah, if the border is to close, surely we're not going to get fresh meat here now.

QUIST-ARCTON: Bah says he gets the occasional customer coming to watch soccer on the television and perhaps eat a meal. But times are tough since Ebola hit Lofa

BAH: Everybody used to come and eat here, but right now as we can see - take a look. Nobody's around.

QUIST-ARCTON: Except us. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Voinjama.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.